Law and Dis-Order Oaxaca

"Two margaritas to go, please..."

(for those who watch Law and Order and CSI, and recall reports of the 2006 unrest in Oaxaca)

Popular TV series’ creators Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer should thank their lucky stars that they’re not residents of Oaxaca, Mexico. How could they develop storylines? Investigating crime scenes is just a little different in Las Vegas, Miami and New York than in southern Mexico. Enforcing the law and establishing order would require a whole new set of principles. Wolf would have to re-write the rules to determine who the special victims in fact were.

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On a recent visit to Puerto Escondido, one of the two most popular coastal resorts in the state of Oaxaca, in the midst of sipping margaritas at a local restaurant, our friend Amy realized that she’d left her purse where we had been an hour earlier. But she and my wife had plans to continue drinking and chatting for another hour. What to do? “Two margaritas to go, por favor, and make it quick, I’ve gotta get my purse!” Now alcohol in plastic cups generally doesn’t cut it, especially when custom dictates tall-stemmed, wide-rimmed glassware for Jimmy Buffet’s favorite, but in a society where any type of beverage para llevar (to go) is not the norm, you take what you can get. Predictably the two lucky ladies weren’t pulled over, but even if they had been, I’d instructed them well about how to avoid being fined, using my expert legal training and experience. Just say: “But officer, I really didn’t know a lid on the cup was required when drinking while driving, and besides, as you know, here in southern Mexico restaurants often don’t have lids for their take-out drinks so the restaurant’s to blame, not us.”

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The ruthless General Santa Ana, on-again-off-again president of the Republic for some 30 years, attacked The Alamo with all the might of the Mexican army, and had no difficulty defeating the best the United States had to offer by way of resistance, including Jim Bowie, Davey Crockett and Jim Travis. That’s the way the world generally works, not as it did during biblical times when David slew Goliath. But the stories in the Old Testament were relived on November 2, 2006, with a modern-day giant, the Mexican government represented by its Federal Preventative Police, battling a thousand or so left wing rebels trying to hold onto a few blocks of real estate known as Cinco Señores in downtown Oaxaca. The troops retreated amidst billowing black smoke as a result of David, instead of using his slingshot, simply torching about a dozen cars, trucks and buses. We all knew what had happened, so there was no work for CSI Gil Grissom. Red bandanas and black ski masks prevented Officer Fontana from learning the IDs of the perpetrators, and even if he had identified them, no prosecutions for Assistant D.A. McCoy since the protesters had shut down the courts.

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Detectives John Munch and Ice-T are occasionally faced with being shut-out when the apparent culprit is merely a pawn in a game of big business deception and greed. If it’s not a pharmaceutical company ignoring or hiding trial tests which put in doubt the safety of new medications resulting in the death of a child, it’s a transportation company knowing using below standard replacement parts leading to a multi-fatality crash. The doctor prescribing the meds and the bus driver are exonerated of liability in favor of seeking convictions against the real criminals, those who knowingly put sub-standard products on the market. But in southern Mexico, it’s the rule rather than the exception … endemic, institutionalized and accepted from the bottom up---from the individual right up to the lack of federal consumer protection legislation or appropriate regulation and enforcement of same.

The “contraband” middle-class Oaxacans seek from The States and Canada consists of products such as Bayer Aspirin and Philips light bulbs, not because they can’t be obtained here, but rather since their quality does not match that of those same products which are manufactured north of the border. The former won’t as readily dissolve, and the latter lasts a fraction of the time as advertised, if the newly purchased bulbs work at all. Stores urge consumers to try light bulbs before leaving the store. Why is it almost impossible to get extended warranties in Oaxaca, whereas in El Norte salespeople encourage their purchase? In my own case, the following appliances have either broken down within the first year of purchase or just after the expiration of a paltry 3 month guarantee, or have never performed up to standard: television, toaster, DVD (both truck and household units), grass cutter, microwave (twice), refrigerator. What we need here is CSI Oaxaca --- Consumer Scene Investigation. Step aside blondes Calleigh Dukane and Marg Helgenberger. I’d be just as happy with morentitas Salma Hayek and Lila Downs investigating my problems, and I bet so would the viewing public.

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So they can’t create a series about ridding the city of drunken drivers as long as restaurants continue to serve margaritas to go, or centering upon defective toasters which cause 2nd degree burns because the State’s law concerning “let the buyer beware” is taken literally and to the extreme. Without courts functioning from time to time, order through judicial process consists of vigilante groups deciding who’s guilty of doing what, and meting out punishment by blindfolding the culprit and tying him up to a downtown telephone pole.

A series about legislative change wouldn’t cut it in Canada since the cable channels documenting parliamentary sessions get an average of three viewers per program, and even less in the U.S. when President Bush is addressing such matters. But in Juarez’s Wonderland I think we’d have a hit.

Anthony LaPaglia would run for office, or better yet anyone on one of the popular programs with any kind of accent, as long as it isn’t southern, as in Texan. First bill: mandatory lids on “liquor to go.” With less spillage, less driver distraction and therefore accidents are reduced. Second bill: outlaw the manufacture or assembly in Mexico of anything electronic or electrical. Let Mexicans continue to swim, burrow or climb to the U.S., where in factories they’ll to learn about production standards until they are competent to form a federal advisory committee in their own country. Third bill: outlaw trade unions and strikes, and simply legislate that a revolution must take place every 6 years. To become the president of a revolutionary party (only one per six years, please), there would be 3 prerequisites: 1) A moustache: length would be a determining factor in the contest, and there would be different standards set for males and females (Salma would therefore be in the running, and a favorite at that); 2) A quantity of empty Corona beer bottles and stockpiled gasoline … you obviously need Molotov cocktails to defeat any Mexican army; 3) Sufficient campaign resources, measured in mezcal on hand … when the revolution is lost, or even won, you’re going to have to show you’ll be able to adequately, respectively, drown your sorrows or celebrate.

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With every good revolution worth its weight in refried beans there are significant casualties on each side, so there would have to be changes to the infrastructure of the city such that ambulances would be able to get to those in need, and then to hospital, an issue here, and not one you’d want to experience firsthand:

1) In the Western World there have been committees formed to alter the names of streets in a municipality with the same or a similar name…no more Johnson Street and Johnson Road. Confusing for ambulance drivers and dispatchers, causing at times fatal delays. The issue is somewhat different in Oaxaca. Two blocks from our home, on Sierra Leona, there’s a #115 at one end of the street, and a #115 towards the middle. Here the solution is simple: The dispatcher just has to ask “ how many #115s are there on your street, señor” and if the answer is more than one, he’d follows up with “then stand outside your house waving a bloody white towel…we’ll get there when we can.”

2) Pass a law stating that ambulances and no other motorized vehicles are permitted to go through red lights.

3) No more than 2 traffic officers at an intersection unless they’ve passed a Canadian accredited course on traffic control, arm flailing and the use of whistles. At intersections where there are 4 or more officers, each must have received at least a C- in the course. Nail clippers must not be brought to the job site. In the alternative, they can only be used when there are no ambulance sirens blaring.

4) At least 50% of traffic lights facing each way in an intersection must be working, and where there are no such lights facing a particular direction in an intersection where there are otherwise lights, at least one must be erected within three years of promulgation of this law.

5) Ambulance drivers must be at least 18 years of age, and while driving to a call or hospital at least one leg must be shackled to the vehicle so when in an accident the operator cannot flee the scene. This law shall apply to only those drivers who have two legs.

6) After disobeying a traffic signal while on the job, ambulance drivers shall be exempt from having to stop and pay traffic officers on the spot.

7) All drivers shall forthwith be deemed not licensed to drive until they have passed a road and eye test as opposed to simply a written exam, and no longer shall bribes be accepted in lieu thereof.

8) All recently constructed English turn lanes shall be abolished until the populace has been told what they are and how to use them. In the interim, the fines for killing both pedestrians and drivers at such intersections shall be doubled, tripled in the case of ambulance drivers, and for those incarcerated in these circumstances, cellular phone privileges shall be restricted to two hours daily, one hour in the case of ambulance drivers.

9) On dates when it is anticipated that someone in the city might need an ambulance, there shall be a blanket prohibition against protesters occupying city streets unless they agree to permit ambulances to cross their path.

The likes of Wolf, Bruckheimer, John Wells and the rest would have a field day in Oaxaca. A story centering upon how each of the foregoing laws gets passed would form the basis of a one hour episode. Thereafter there would be episodes about how the other “irregularities” become resolved through the enactment of legislation required as a result of real-life tragedies taking place. If we factor in the number of days television is disrupted as a result of political extremists taking over and rendering inoperable TV stations, the new series should endure for five decades, minimum


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